At the start of 2016, I would wake up abruptly on Saturday mornings and have that sense of dread at going to work, only to have a wave of relief wash over me when I realize it's the weekend. It wasn't the 80-hour work week that was causing it. It was the feeling that I wasn't adding value to and creating an impact in anyone's life.
Source: Project Wayfinder
I didn't know it then, but it all had to do with my purpose and values. (Before you dismiss this as a Millennial thing, purpose is not the same as passion)
Purpose is about contributing to something beyond yourself, moving in an intentional direction, and connecting to your deeper why in everything you do.
Source: Project Wayfinder
That year, I immersed myself in a process of self-discovery. From Simon Sinek's Start With Why, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans' Designing Your Life, Jon Butcher's Lifebook, to the Self-Awareness and Growth Mindset toolkits from The Happiness Planner, I did them all to light my path. In fact, at Smarter Me, we always talk about our purpose being giving kids the Skillset, Mindset and Heartset to define their own happiness and success in the future.
But my own 2 girls are still in the midst of understanding themselves - their strengths, what gives them joy, their values.
So when I read about a curriculum called Project Wayfinder
developed at Stanford d.school
, for adolescents (kids ages 10 to 19) which helps adolescent students create lives of meaning and purpose, I was intrigued.
35 hours and 2 transits later, I was in the U.S. to attend the teacher training conducted by Project Wayfinder. It's compulsory for educators to go through this journey themselves before being qualified to teach it (which makes alot of sense). I was one of only two educators from Asia - In fact, I'm their first educator from South East Asia!
One of the first activities we did was "Building Your Boat". We each had 70 values (plus some blanks for us to add on) and we had to choose 10-15 values which resonated with us. We classified these values into 2 sides of our boat - values we already actively practise, and values we'd like to develop.
Our core values provide a guiding light in decision making.
When we are deciding on a path to take, in order to ensure it's a purposeful direction, we can ask ourselves if it aligns with our core values, or if it will support the development of our core values.
For example, if your #1 core value is honesty, becoming a sales person might not always align with your values. And if your core value is collaboration, then you'll thrive more in a team-based role than a silo, remote role.
(If you're interested, my purpose is to empower young people to make choices in life which they are happy and at peace with. My Top 3 core values are Integrity, Impact, and Growth)
Discovery and 'finding out' is built into Wayfinder’s curriculum. Students ponder “Who am I? What does society expect of me? What moves me? What needs do I care about? How can I take the answers to these questions and put them into action?” Students find their answers through exercises like, “List the strengths people have observed most in you,” and asks, “How can you use your core values to serve the world?”
Really? Asking 14 year olds this? If even I struggle to answer it, can they? "They haven't even lived half my lifespan!" bemoaned another educator.
This bunch of educators decided to spend their precious summer holidays learning how to teach kids to find their purpose.
This training wasn't short of educators who truly and indisputably cared for their students, but there were skeptics. There always are.
We all want success stories. We want guaranteed returns. I mean, who doesn't?
But Project Wayfinder is only in its 4th year so there I all I can say is that I have spoken to students who have gone through Project Wayfinder, who shared that they felt more confident, more aware of themselves and empathetic of their peers, and less afraid about their future.
Metropolitan Arts Institute in Phoenix's co-founder Matt Baker says the Project Wayfinder curriculum has helped create a “greater sense of community, compassion and tolerance” among students by combating the feelings of pointlessness that can distract them. There are also enough scientific research and studies dating back to 1995 which concludes the positive impact of purpose finding.
Source: Project Wayfinder
My own kids who are going through this with me are still kids, so I definitely can't tell you how successful they are because they knew their purpose from a young age.
But this I know.
I'm not here to give kids all the answers to life now.
I'm here to be a purposeful role model for them, to help them go through transformative experiences, and to give them a toolkit which they can pull out from the depths of their brains 5, 15 years down the road, which will help them make decisions that are meaningful to them.
I believe that understanding your core values and purpose simply helps you make better, intentional decisions. I know so many people in their 30s and 40s who: (1) are unhappy where they are, but don't know why, and don't know what to do; (2) are unhappy and abruptly quit their jobs, take up an MBA or travel, hoping that it would open new doors.
But with purpose, we can actually make intentional decisions. Had I known my values and purpose back in 2016, quitting investment banking and setting up my own startup was definitely not the only way forward.
Wayfinder's Director of Strategic Partnerships, Tim Klein shared this:
"I wear multiple hats - Apart from Project Wayfinder, I'm a student career counselor, I teach at Harvard University, I'm a purpose researcher and design specialist at Boston College...but whatever work I take on, whatever life decisions I make, I check it against my purpose compass - and make sure they are all aligned with it."
This is Tim, with the Purpose Compass in the background. I was really just taking a photo of the Purpose Compass but Tim wouldn't move out of the way.
Now coming back to Smarter Me. Doesn't this purpose thing sound like fluffy stuff that doesn't jive with what we already teach?
Not at all. This is how I see it.
1. Purpose Projects
This year, we provided themes (Eg. Sustainable Consumption and Production) to guide students in ideating for their startup. Great starting discussion point, great proposals, but we noticed that their heart wasn't in it. Because it wasn't a need and problem that they identified and cared about.
By incorporating "Sparks" sessions, we can have students sit down and think about out needs and causes in the world that they personally care about, combine it with values and interests they have, to generate ideas for businesses they want to build. We saw students who had this alignment, continue working on their idea post camp.
2. Giving Meaning to Key Future Skills
Any parent would've heard that the world is changing and 25% of jobs will be displaced by technology in the 10 years. And we've been telling our kids to focus on learning coding and robotics - skills which will provide job security and are in high demand.
But we're missing the point. By just telling them what to study, what they should be, we're forcing mindsets and end up making these key skills meaningless (like what alot of kids think of algebra). But for a child who values curiosity, enjoys discovery and seeing formulaic reactions, who previously thought the only career option is becoming a scientist, digital technology opens up a whole new world [P/s: This is the case of my younger daughter] .
Source: Project Wayfinder
So what if we can help them uncover their "Why" and develop a sense of purpose?
Purpose education is to give adolescents a North Star to always guide them through difficult decisions in life - 10 years. 15 years. 20 years down the road.
Now wouldn't that be bright?
Do you think Purpose Education is important for your child?
Leave us a comment below if you'd like to have your child go through Wayfinder's curriculum (Or if you'd like to see a parent-child Wayfinder workshop)! We'll be holding our first Wayfinder workshop and inviting selected students to experience our first one for free.
Project Wayfinder's Why:
"In an increasingly unpredictable and self-defined world, this much is clear: we must teach students the skillsets, mindsets, and practices to create purposeful lives, if we want them to thrive" said Project Wayfinder's founder and director Patrick Cook-Deegan, a Stanford University Education Innovation Fellow who lectures at Stanford University and UC Berkeley, and is a serial social entrepreneur.
Patrick saw the rise of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and mindfulness, but there was something missing. Those classes on their own fail to connect students’ inner development to their real-world projects and concerns.
Students said it doesn't help them decide what to do after high school, what college to attend, what kind of career to pursue, and of course the biggest question of all: “What do I want to do with my life?”
And that's why he started developing Project Wayfinder.
Here's an article written by Tim Klein of Project Wayfinder: